There’s a long history of hiding and murdering people, with bragging rights going to those who can murder people from a distance with pinpoint accuracy. Warfare is in our blood, our DNA, and patriotism is our natural bias. We like to kill the other guy, before the other guy kills us. Killing all around. So we elevate those who can kill very effectively to a kind of heroic status.
In WW II—the Big One in common parlance—a female sniper named Lyudmila Pavlichenko murdered 309 people for the Soviet military, making her the world’s most “successful” murderer of the feminine persuasion.
The current darling of sniper lovers is one Chris Kyle, posthumously honored by Clint Eastwood in a lovely film that has sparked some controversy about the honor that should be bestowed upon someone for shooting people in the back with a high-powered rifle. Mr. Kyle has 160 confirmed kills, however his mythology has grown to significantly more murders than that. One has to accept the fact though, that while he may have the American flag draped over his murders, there have been many more prodigious killers throughout history. He can’t even claim the most impressive long-distance assassination as that distinction goes to his British counterpart Craig Harrison, who ended the lives of two men in Afghanistan at a distance of 2,707 yards, the longest confirmed sniper murder in history.
As might be expected, snipers are not thought of very highly by the enemy, and if captured are generally not treated as well as the more mundane and pedestrian soldier. Snipers are often thought of as terrorists by the opposing side, and since the nature of terrorism is to strike fear into the hearts of others, the title seems aptly bestowed upon one who puts bullets in people’s heads from a hidden location.
In 1972 in Ireland, during one of the bloodiest years of that conflict, the majority of men killed were shot dead by IRA riflemen; hidden safely from view of the enemy.
Not all incidents of sniper assassinations are remembered fondly though, as a young President had his promising life snuffed out by someone hiding in a building with a rifle and an axe to grind. The world is still treated periodically to footage of that horrific murder by a sharpshooter.
One might ask at this stage if there is a point I’m trying to make, and I am wondering about that myself. I despise idioms, but perhaps all’s fair in love and war is an apt description here. I fall on the side of believing war to be a crime against all of humanity, but seeing how long the human species has been engaged in the activity, I may be holding the minority view. If we’re going to engage in the wholesale murder of each other, I suppose killing with a sniper’s bullet, or blowing someone up with an IED, or setting a tripwire in the jungle with grenades attached all result in the same thing.